Roundup: Talking About History
This is where we excerpt articles about history that appear in the media. Among the subjects included on this page are: anniversaries of historical events, legacies of presidents, cutting-edge research, and historical disputes.
SOURCE: NYT (12-30-06)
GERALD R. FORD kept his distance from political controversy after leaving office, but he retained a special interest in the workings of his alma mater. In 1999, the 86-year-old former varsity football star decided to make a public stand in support of affirmative action at the University of Michigan.
He wrote an Op-Ed article on this page titled “Inclusive America, Under Attack.” A pair of pending lawsuits, Mr. Ford wrote, would prohibit Michigan and other universities “from even considering race as one of many factors weighed by admission counselors.” Such a move would condemn “future college students to suffer the cultural and social impoverishment that afflicted my generation.”
As it happened, on Sept. 15, 1999, a month after the article ran, Mr. Ford had dinner with James M....
SOURCE: WaPo (12-30-06)
"Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned. . . . [T]hese events, tragic as they are, portend neither the end of the world nor of America's leadership in the world."
President Gerald R. Ford uttered those words in a speech at Tulane University on April 23, 1975, in the final days of Vietnam's long war. The rowdy crowd roared and gave him a standing ovation. The military draft had ended and American troops and POWs had returned home two years earlier. America had washed its hands of Vietnam, yet millions of lives were still at stake.
Halfway around the world, my family experienced the unfolding of those tragic events in South...
SOURCE: Headquarters Gazette, newsletter of the Society for Military History (12-28-06)
In the short run, the article may have had a positive effect. A central element in its portrait was the failure of the University of Wisconsin to fill the Ambrose-Hesseltine Chair in American Military History despite the presence of a million dollars in its endowment fund, allegedly because “tenured radicals” within its history department were actively hostile to military history. The explanation was incorrect: A million dollars is about half of what it costs to endow a chair nowadays and Wisconsin is currently in very...
SOURCE: Weekly Standard (12-27-06)
Ford's greatest strength, Greenstein wrote in his book The Presidential Difference, was his "emotional intelligence." This is the quality of emotional soundness that allows a president to avoid distractions, not be intimidated by his high office and its obligations, and to take criticism and even policy defeats with equanimity.
Greenstein wrote: "Ford's own remark about himself upon assuming the vice presidency in December 1973 was that he was 'a Ford, not a Lincoln.' In the second half of the 1970s, it was more to the point for the nation that he was not an emotionally roiled Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon."
SOURCE: Chicago Tribune (12-28-06)
In death, President Gerald Ford's pardon of the disgraced Richard Nixon in 1974 continues to generate misgivings and criticism. Nixon had resigned in August in the wake of the two-year-old Watergate scandal, which had revealed his abuses of power and his obstruction of justice.
The Los Angeles Times observed then that "the pardon was a mistake, inconsistent with the fundamental principle that everyone, including the president, is equal before the law." After Nixon's years of stonewalling and lying, the Times concluded that we "would have been better served by letting the legal process take its course, no matter how uncertain."
Some controversies will not die, although they long have outlived their usefulness and time has settled whatever vexed us at the moment.
Indeed, the pardon crated a national uproar and hampered Ford's election bid in 1976....
SOURCE: Slate (12-28-06)
Washington's Gerald Ford cult differs from, say, its John F. Kennedy cult or its Ronald Reagan cult in that no branches can be found outside the nation's capital. It is possible to say,...
SOURCE: History News Service (12-28-06)
"History will vindicate me!" It is the rallying cry of politicians worldwide who are unpopular, or under attack, or scandal-ridden. Sadly for former President Gerald Ford, who died Tuesday evening, his well-deserved vindication will probably never come. Thrust into a difficult situation -- one he handled with aplomb -- his reputation was unfairly and irrevocably ruined by his pardon of Richard Nixon.
When Americans look backward, they're impressed by bold words and dramatic actions. Ending slavery, declaring a bank holiday, speaking softly and carrying a big stick, staring down Nikita Khrushchev, demanding that the Berlin Wall be torn down -- these are the things of which legends are made. It's no coincidence that of our six or seven most popular presidents, only Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson...
SOURCE: PBS NewsHour (12-27-06)
Richard Norton Smith, on the day he resigned, Richard Nixon said, "The leadership of America will be in good hands." Did Gerald Ford know what he was getting into?
RICHARD NORTON SMITH, George Mason University: I'm not sure anyone really knows what they're getting into under the best of circumstances, and those were the worst of circumstances.
I mean, as we've heard all day, the worst constitutional crisis, certainly of the 20th century, soon to be the...
SOURCE: WSJ (12-28-06)
... He was our Accidental President -- never elected by the voters to represent anything but his congressional district, which included Grand Rapids, Mich. It was a happy accident for America, and in many ways it was no accident. It was years in the making and required hard work, planning and good fortune. Jerry often told me how fortunate he had been, beginning when he was only two weeks old and his courageous mother fled an abusive marriage to make a better life for herself and her son.
I first met Jerry in 1951, but our paths came close to crossing when we both served in the Navy in World War II and our separate ships were caught in the same typhoon that nearly took our lives in December 1944. Jerry's brush with death came when he was rushing to put out a fire on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Monterey, and lost his footing. He fell as the storm rolled the ship 25...
SOURCE: WSJ (12-28-06)
"America's Suicide Attempt" is how the historian Paul Johnson describes the 1970s. And it is important to recall the bad temper of the times that Ford inherited in becoming the 38th President. He succeeded Richard Nixon, who had resigned over the Watergate coverup and amid an unpopular war in Vietnam. He faced large liberal majorities in Congress that were emboldened by their ouster of Nixon and set to revive the Great Society. And he had to clean up the financial problems caused by a burst of inflation and wage and price controls. Ford navigated all of these traumas better than he gets...
SOURCE: NYT (12-28-06)
AMERICA got its first real impression of Gerald Ford on the steamy August morning 33 years ago when he took office as president, and most people instantly liked what they saw. Mr. Ford stood in the driveway of his suburban split-level house, hours before assuming a post he never sought and hoped to avoid having to fill. One of the questions he took was about Harry Truman’s comment when he had the office abruptly thrust upon him. Mr. Truman said he felt that the moon, the stars and the planets had fallen on him.
“I think that’s an apt description,” Mr. Ford said. “I can tell you better this afternoon after it actually happens.”
“Mrs. Ford hoped you would get out of politics. What is her response?”
“Well,” Mr. Ford shook his head. “She’s just doing her best and we’ll wait and see about the other.”
Like Mr. Truman, President Ford was...
SOURCE: NYT (12-28-06)
FOR Americans under a certain age, Gerald Ford is best remembered for his contribution to Bartlett’s — “Our long national nightmare is over” — or, more likely, for the comedian Chevy Chase’s stumbling, bumbling impersonations of him on “Saturday Night Live.” But there’s a different label we can attach to this former president, one that has been overlooked for 62 years: war hero.
In 1944, Lt. j.g. Jerry Ford — a lawyer from Grand Rapids, Mich., blond and broad-shouldered, with the lantern jaw of a young Johnny Weissmuller — was a 31-year-old gunnery officer on the aircraft carrier Monterey. The Monterey was a member of Adm. William Halsey’s Third Fleet, and in mid-December, Lieutenant Ford was sailing off the Philippines as Admiral Halsey’s ships provided air cover for the second phase of Gen. Douglas...
SOURCE: WaPo (12-27-06)
Back at the White House at 11:05 a.m., he went on television to announce that he had decided to pardon Richard Nixon for any crimes he might have committed during Watergate. The country's obsession with the scandal "could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it," he read from a statement. "I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can I must." The core reason for the decision, Ford said, was to put Nixon and Watergate in the past.
The reverberations from that decision may well have cost Ford his presidency in the next election. In the first week after the pardon, his public approval rating plummeted from 71 percent to 49 percent. Jerry terHorst, Ford's press secretary and friend of 25 years, resigned as a matter of conscience.
Ford had been...
SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor (12-27-06)
Why does this curmudgeon, with a wit like a poniard, who dealt in the ephemeral currency of the news, and whose heyday had ended by the middle of the last century, still claim attention?
Any doubters should visit the Mencken Room in the Enoch Pratt Free Library here, which holds artifacts left by the Sage of Baltimore: his Corona typewriter, the desk he occupied at the Baltimore Evening Sun, his books, and nearly every scrap that holds the estimated 15 million words he put on paper during his life - not to mention a lavishly romantic portrait of the great man resting his head against his palm, in bright red suspenders given him by Rudolf Valentino.
Mencken had doughy features that made his face...
SOURCE: Independent (UK) (12-27-06)
For example, they include Aneurin Bevan, the socialist minister credited with creating the National Health Service. I suppose the thinking is, "He's extremely important, because if he hadn't formed the NHS, we wouldn't have a chance of selling it off." But the whole idea of this list is flawed, firstly because it assumes history is created solely by a handful of monarchs, generals or geniuses. The NHS wasn't just a product of Bevan's brilliance, but a response to a widespread sentiment among millions of people that the working class...
SOURCE: San Jose Mercury News & Baltimore Sun (12-26-06)
An unpopular war raging inconclusively overseas. A truculent North Korea defying U.N. resolutions and flaunting its military ambitions. A sharply divided Congress squabbling bitterly over foreign policy. And a beleaguered second-term president in his last two years in office, struggling to keep his administration afloat in the face of anemic approval ratings.
George W. Bush in 2006? Try Harry S. Truman in 1950.
Truman's last two years in the White House were interminable for him, the press, Congress and the nation at large. It's easy to forget that when the curtain came down on his presidency, Truman's poll ratings stood at a meager 31 percent. Only Richard M. Nixon, who resigned with the dark cloud of Watergate hanging over his head, suffered a lower rating, 23 percent. Even Jimmy Carter, whose presidency was held hostage along with 52 Americans...
SOURCE: NYT (12-23-06)
Christmas seems to bring out the worst in America’s culture warriors. The Christian right continues its crusade against those waging “war against Christmas.” Multiculturalists have nearly banished “Merry Christmas” and “Silent Night” from the public domain and are now going after outdoor Christmas trees. Atheist activists like Sam Harris are goaded into defending the outing of their Christmas trees with the argument that it’s all secular anyway.
Harris is only partly right. The whole truth about Christmas is far more interesting and reveals why all can enjoy it. It is the perfect example of America’s mainstream process, a national rite that dissolves the boundaries between sacred and secular, pagan and civilized, insiders and outsiders.
From the very beginning Christians have always had a tenuous hold on the holiday. The tradition of celebrating Jesus’ birth on the 25th...
SOURCE: LAT (12-16-06)
ONE DAY IN 1994, when I was living in Ede, a small town in Holland, I got a visit from my half-sister. She and I were both immigrants from Somalia and had both applied for asylum in Holland. I was granted it; she was denied. The fact that I got asylum gave me the opportunity to study. My half-sister couldn't.
In order for me to be admitted to the university I wanted to attend, I needed to pass three courses: a language course, a civics course and a history course. It was in the preparatory history course that I, for the first time, heard of the Holocaust. I was 24 years old at that time, and my half-sister was 21.
In those days, the daily news was filled with the Rwandan genocide and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. On the day that my half-sister...
SOURCE: Londra Toplum Postasi [daily Turkish Cypriot newspaper in London] (12-21-06)
Q. Why exactly is unofficial history?
A. Firstly, we need to recognise that there are different pasts. There’s the formal history that is spoken about, written about and celebrated, but there’s the unspoken history that people have actually lived through, but it never surfaces. If it...
SOURCE: Guardian (12-22-06)
"It is of great concern that so many people feel under pressure to present the perfect Christmas," said the Right Rev Alan McDonald. "Stop thinking of presents and start thinking about the present!" was the speech's catchily headlined press release.
Concerns over the rampant commercialism of Christmas are almost as old as the festival itself. Back in the late fourth century, St Gregory of Nazianzus was urging Christians to celebrate the birth of Jesus "not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world".
But Christmas as we know it - spending December 25 opening presents and eating turkey - is a relatively new phenomenon, says Ronald Hutton of the University of Bristol.
"About 200 years ago a lot of people did not celebrate Christmas...